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Book Review: Indestructible – The Unforgettable Story of a Marine Hero at the Battle of Iwo Jima by Jack H. Lucas with D. K. Drum

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According to Indestructible: The Unforgettable Story of a Marine Hero at the Battle of Iwo Jima, Jack Lucas was 13 years old on December 7, 1941, when he decided to go to war against Japan. He wanted to “make the Japanese pay for the attack on Pearl Harbor.” The United States was soon at war with Nazi Germany, but since it had not attacked America, it was the Japanese Jack picked to fight.

Jack’s mother was aware of his resolve to join the Marines but she would not lie and sign admission papers. After he forged her signature, he hugged her goodbye and headed for the recruiting office. Jack would admit there was no real love or respect between him and his stepfather, who assured the recruiting office that Jack was really 17. Jack was accepted as a Marine warrior.

At the top of his class in 1943, Jack easily qualified for heavy machine gun operation. But his next assignment disappointed him. Along with nine others, he was to remain in camp to take the place of senior instructors who were shipping out. This wouldn’t work for Jack. He had joined the Marines “to kill the enemy myself … I was hell bent to go to war.” Ignoring his orders, he went AWOL and jumped the train for California. There, his missing name was added to the roster after he convinced a sergeant a mistake had been made.

Indestructible tells of a cocky bunch of Marines who singled Jack out because of his height, and verbally abused him. When a man dared touch Jack’s hat, Jack exploded with a right to the man’s jaw that knocked him unconscious. Punching out a fellow Marine was dishonorable in Jack’s eyes because Marines became his family. Yet he was “never one to accept abuse.”

Jack LucasArriving at Oahu, Hawaii, Jack felt he was finally getting closer to deal with the Japanese, “one body count at a time.” He was as feisty as ever. Too much so. He was locked up 17 times for fights while on liberty. He was thrown into the brig for punching out a Marine and messing up his tent quarters. That Marine called him a runt and refused to give him a light. For this incident, Jack was locked up for 45 days where he pounded rocks 12 hours a day, while awaiting court martial.

When released, Jack would wait no longer. He became a stowaway on the USS Deuel heading for the Pacific island of Iwo Jima. On the 29th day at sea, he turned himself in. Although he was an administrative nightmare, eventually he was reclassified as fit for action and assigned to an outfit. At last, he felt he was a real part of the Pacific war operation, “ready to explode at the first opportunity to draw blood.” Jack was now 17.

Artillery shelling followed by heavy aerial bombardment softened up the tunneled out Mount Suribachi. Jack scrambled from a Higgens boat into deep water and struggled toward bloody Red Beach shore. Lifeless and wounded Marines lay everywhere, along with scattered body parts. Ruined machinery blocked the way. Yet Jack and his outfit struggled forward through the powder-like sand of Iwo Jima.

As a team of four they approached a bunker. Flame throwers were firing napalm deep into enemy tunnels. As the Japanese fled out into a trench, Jack’s foursome killed many at point-blank range. It was here when they were so close to the enemy, Jack spotted two live grenades tossed into his trench. Without hesitation, he covered both with his body, shoving them deep into the loose ash as far as possible with his hand and his rifle butt. To Jack’s recollection, only one exploded, but he may not have heard the second one. The blast lifted him into the air and dropped him on his back.

Jack describes the numbness throughout his entire body, the terrible ringing in his ears, the feeling of warm blood oozing from his head, chest, abdomen, and thighs. It ran down his throat. Pieces of wood from his rifle butt were blown into his chest. What little clothing was left was shredded. Because he remained conscious through the entire ordeal, Jack spit out blood in his throat that “cleared the way for life-giving oxygen.”

Needless to say, getting Jack and thousands of other wounded men off Iwo Jima was a miraculous task in itself, but he eventually made it back to the States. For his absolute bravery above and beyond what could ever be required by mere military code, Jack was awarded the Medal of Honor. He considers the medal and his association with the Marines as a brotherhood the highlight of his entire life.

Indestructible is a fascinating story of one hero, Jack Lucas, who would insist that a similar story could be told by the thousands of service men whose voices were stilled forever on the slopes of Suribachi — soldiers who never reached the top — soldiers who were killed as they stepped out of their Higgens crafts and struggled to reach The Red Beach of blood.

I would recommend this story to anyone who likes to learn about the heroes of “the greatest generation” and what they endured to free this world of tyranny. The story is well-written in the first person. I enjoyed the first half of the book leading up to Jack’s encounter with the enemy grenades, more than the second half replete with the honors and opportunities bestowed on him as a result of his Medal of Honor.

As strange as it may seem, although I enjoyed the story and cannot imagine the courage it took to throw his body on two live grenades, I did not like Jack as a person. Yes, he was a genuine hero but numerous times in his dialogue he talks of wanting to “kill Japanese” as if he hated the Japanese as a people when in fact, it was the Japanese leaders and military responsible for the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Then too, it seems he recalls with pride the number of times he punched out those who disagreed with him, even punching out a man in a hospital. He seemed determined to paint himself as a real tough guy, afraid of no one, no authority, who made his own decisions in spite of military protocol. He would do things his way to get into the war and “kill Japanese.”

In the second half of the book, he talks about his broken marriage and the number of failures he encountered attempting to get his life back together. He mentions a second close call with death when, as a paratrooper, a tangled chute refused to open properly, landing him in a hospital. Reading Indestructible was a fascinating story, but Jack’s personality left me cold – making for a courageous hero I respect but have no desire to meet.

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About Regis Schilken

  • http://philobiblon.co.uk Natalie Bennett

    This article has been selected for syndication to Advance.net , which is affiliated with newspapers around the United States, and to Boston.com. Nice work!

  • Ray Elliott

    Please forgive the duplicate submission: I got a phone call and hit publish before I realized it adn had not proofed my comments.
    Regis Schilken,

    I recently read your review of Jack Lucas’ memoir, The Unforgettable Story of a Marine Hero at the Battle of Iwo Jima, and was impressed with most of what you have written about one of the many true heroes of the battle of Iwo Jima who gave so much in that battle. Jack Lucas epitomizes the Marine spirit — and he is a Marine, not a soldier as you refer to him in a couple of places — with his actions on Iwo Jima. And he certainly is living proof of how his actions in combat affects those brave Marines (and soldiers, sailors and airmen) who have sacrificed so much and affecting them and their families for the rest of their lives for the freedoms we enjoy as Americans.

    So I applaud you for your understanding of Jack Lucas and men like him.

    I do take issue with the last two graphs of your review. I’ve read the book, too, and have no recall of reading about Jack “even punching out a man in a hospital.” And Jack, a fellow Marine I first met on the 60th anniversary “Reunion of Honor” on Iwo Jima in 2005, told me that that was not the case. He did say that “I made my way through a fence hole and got in a fight at a bar with one arm in a sling during my last month in the hospital.” Not a large discrepancy, perhaps, But as a writer and journalist myself, I find inaccuracies like that, particularly one that supports your perspective of Jack, unacceptable. As an editor, I would merely have changed it and spoken to the reviewer about being more careful with his/her writing; as a teacher of journalism, I would have done the same but given the writer a poor grade.

    I don’t think it’s quite accurate, either, that Jack “punched out those who disagreed with him.” To be sure, Jack is “a real tough guy,” even in the twilight of his life when he’s on oxygen much of the time as a result of his injuries more than 60 years ago. I do agree that he is “afraid of no one” — being afraid has the connotation, I would submit, of being unable to react in a situation where there is fear in a situation such as Jack and thousands of others have found themselves in while fighting for our freedoms.

    I think Jack and other Marines or anyone in combat have fear. But most aren’t afraid. And they do their job, many like Jack Lucas, do their jobs above and beyond what is expected of them.

    Perhaps you’re aware that there were many young men who skirted “military protocol” during World War II and joined the military to “kill Japanese” after their cowardly attack on Pearl Harbor that catapulted the United States into the war that my friend, the late Willie Morris, called “one of the memorable events of mankind, more catastrophic perhaps than anything in the history of the human race.” Thank God that Jack Lucas and men and women like him joined the fight so we can still live free.

    I agree that Jack’s story was “fascinating.” It does, however, say a great deal about you and your personality that Jack’s fascinating story “Left (you) cold — making for a courageous hero (you) respect but have no desire to meet. Meeting such a man and simply shaking his hand and telling him thanks for his service was an honor for me when I met him on the Iwo Jima trip in ’05. I’d heard of Jack Lucas as far back as I can remember and had always hoped to meet him. And I grew up with a man (a neighbor) who was in A/1/28 (a company which had two Medal of Honor recipients, one of who died on Iwo Jima and the other who tragically killed himself, his wife and a neighbor in his driveway years later) on Iwo Jima. And I served with others in the Marine Corps who had fought throughout the Pacific campaign.

    As for not hating the Japanese people when it “was the Japanese leaders and military responsible for the attack on Pearl Harbor,” it’s easy for you and me to say that when we weren’t there on the receiving end of the Japanese cruelty and seeing our comrades die. It’s quite another thing to have been on the receiving end and having seen so much of how it affected others. Personally, I don’t hate the Japanese people, either, but I can understand where Jack is coming from. There is an old Indian saying about not criticizing another man until you’ve “walked a mile in his moccasins.” I can hope that Jack and others can overcome their hatred, but I can understand it and never criticize their feelings in that regard.

    ‘Nough sed, I’m sure. I just wanted to share these thoughts with you and let you know that Jack Lucas is, in my opinion, a good and nice man, one I’d want to my right, to my left or to cover my back in a tight situation. With your personality, I’m not quite sure if I’d want you anywhere when push came to shove.

    Respectfully,

    Ray Elliott

  • Regis Schilken

    Hello Ray Elliot,

    I’m not sure this link still works but I’ll give it a try.

    Two years ago, I wrote a review about Jack Lucas for Blogcritics after reading his book, Indestructible – The Unforgettable Story of a Marine Hero at the Battle of Iwo Jima.

    Recently, I reread that review after watching so many of America’s young men arriving back in the States–dead.

    In addition, so many of those who returned alive were wounded seriously either physically or mentally–more often than not, in both ways.

    In that review, I made comments about Jack Lucas’ personality which obviously disturbed you. They have disturbed me too, especially after your last sentence,

    “With your personality, I’m not quite sure if I’d want you anywhere
    when push came to shove.”

    ALL of your points I have taken to heart. You are right, I don’t know what I’d have done in Lucas’ situation. Would I have had the courage to jump on a live grenade? Or would I have ducked for cover or turned to run?

    Commenting about Lucas’ personality was really none of my business.
    My comments were subjective and uncalled for in a book review.

    I apologize to Jack Lucas and to you for comments I made about his person rather than about his book.

    This evening, I added that review to Amazon where I removed ALL of the
    personal comments I’d made about Lucas’ personality.

    Although that was two years ago, I hope this reaches both you and Jack since I have no way of reaching either one.

    regis schilken
    [Personal contact info deleted]